Know Your Enemy: The 2018 Minnesota Twins
Orioles fans can appreciate a team defying the odds, and especially the projections.
The Twins did that in 2017, winning 85 games and qualifying for the postseason when anyone who predicted such a thing prior to the year would have been laughed off the face of the earth — and justifiably so.
Over the last three years, the Twins have won 83, 59 and 85 games, and took the steps this offseason to make sure that just one of those years was the outlier on this path to returning to their former glory.
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It’s easy to forget that the Metrodome-era Twins were typically good for 90 wins and an AL Central crown almost every year, but lost their way once they moved into their fancy new stadium. It was kind of a weird dichotomy; the fiscally-responsible — or rather, downright cheap, though perhaps by necessity — Twins routinely contended on a shoestring budget. But when they left that inflatable — or sometimes deflatable — dump on 34 Kirby Puckett Place and moved into their new digs across town, the Twins saw their payroll swell over $100 million for the first time, and the team turned belly up in a hurry.
The 2010 team was one of the best in club history, but starting in 2011, the Twins were irrelevant for more than half a decade — almost exactly coinciding with the Orioles becoming a factor in the AL.
The Twins were among the most active teams in the offseason, turning over roughly a quarter of their 40-man roster in some shape or form, while pulling in a handful of key free agents and trade acquisitions which should drastically shape how the team is viewed, both this season and into the future.
Here are the key additions:
- SP Michael Pineda – More of a factor in 2019, but a pitcher O’s fans definitely are aware of.
- SP Jake Odorizzi – By no means an ace, but a huge upgrade on what the Twins ran out there at times in 2017. Also very, very familiar with the O’s. More on him shortly.
- RP Fernando Rodney – You don’t get 300 career saves by accident. He’s a bit erratic, but throws hard and gets grounders — somehow still as he pitches into his 40s.
- RP Addison Reed – A terrific insurance policy at closer. In a year where the Rockies handed out years and dollars to multiple relievers, the Twins did well to get Reed for two years at a modest cost.
- RP Zach Duke – Underrated reliever who gets grounders and strikeouts, and isn’t just a lefty-only matchup.
- SP Lance Lynn – If he’s anything close to his previous self — and another year removed from Tommy John surgery, there’s a chance — the Twins got a steal at one year and $12 million here.
- DH/1B Logan Morrison – Changed his swing and popped 38 homers last year after a career-high of 20 and just 33 combined in the previous two years. The rich get richer here, as he takes at-bats from Robbie Grossman, a solid but unspectacular DH option.
How this will all look is like this for Opening Day against the Orioles on Thursday:
- C – Jason Castro
- 1B – Joe Mauer
- 2B – Brian Dozier
- 3B – Miguel Sano
- SS – Eduardo Escobar
- LF – Eddie Rosario
- CF – Byron Buxton
- RF – Max Kepler
- DH – Logan Morrison
This offense should scare people. They were rolling in the second half last year without Sano, and now have added Morrison, who is a legit middle-of-the-order bat. Losing Jorge Polanco for 80 games to a suspension hurts, but this team was fourth in the AL in runs scored last year — just three behind Cleveland. That shouldn’t be a hard team to hurdle after they lost Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce and may not have a full year from Michael Brantley.
- C – Mitch Garver
- IF – Ehire Adrianza
- OF – Robbie Grossman
- OF – Ryan LaMarre
The bench won’t factor much in this series, but the Twins have a catcher who can platoon with the starter, a solid defensive infielder and a couple outfielders who give them a little something off the pine. LaMarre is a right-handed hitter — Rosario and Kepler hit lefty — while Grossman gives some of the best plate appearances on the team.
- Jake Odorizzi
- Kyle Gibson
- Jose Berrios
- Lance Lynn
Lynn was pushed back to accommodate a little more prep after he signed late this spring, and he’ll make his first start in a familiar place (Pittsburgh). Familiarity will be the flavor with Odorizzi taking on the Brewers as well; he’s faced the Orioles 18 times (17 starts), which is more than any other team he’s seen in his MLB career. While Odorizzi was only average last year, he was very good in September once he got a season’s worth of injuries behind him (1.03 ERA, .419 OPS against). If he can keep the ball in the yard, he’ll be fine. Gibson needs to keep the ball on the ground and in the strike zone, but for a 30-year-old starter, he still has some potential. Berrios is the closest thing the Twins have to an ace, though he’ll have to show he won’t have another second-half fade this time around. He’s a real treat to watch.
- Fernando Rodney
- Addison Reed
- Trevor Hildenberger
- Zach Duke
- Ryan Pressly
- Taylor Rogers
- Gabriel Moya
- Tyler Kinley
That Tyler Duffey and Alan Busenitz will open the season at Triple-A bodes well for if the Twins need to add any relievers early in the season. Both had their moments where they were really good in the big leagues last year, and it should eliminate the “Tonkin/Breslow” factor where the team had to give a lot of innings to really, really shaky pitchers last year. This won’t make anyone forget about the Yankees bullpen, but should be a league-average unit.
- Ervin Santana (finger, due back in May)
- Trevor May (elbow, due back after June 1)
- Phil Hughes (oblique, TBD)
- Jorge Polanco (suspended until late June)
Obviously not having Santana hurts here — the same is true for Polanco — but where the team would have caved into itself a year ago, this bunch is better insulated for that sort of thing. They should be able to weather the early-season storms.
To me, this is a 90- or 91-win that should be able to put a scare into the Indians. I’m prepared to be wrong, but feel like people are sleeping on how much pitching depth can help a team. Their entire Triple-A rotation is on the 40-man roster. They should be in the Wild Card game, but don’t be stunned if they host it.